World View: Arab League Meeting Ends with Promise for Joint Arab Military Force

Arab League leaders agree to joint, voluntary military force

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Top Iranian journalist defects, criticizes US nuclear negotiators
  • Arab League meeting ends with promise for joint Arab military force
  • Report: Iran nuclear negotiations may be deadlocked

Top Iranian journalist defects, criticizes US nuclear negotiators

Iran's negotiating team in Lausanne (AFP)
Iran’s negotiating team in Lausanne (AFP)

Amir Hossein Motaghi, a top Iranian journalist and close aide to Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani, defected to the West on Friday, while reporting on the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West. Appearing in a televised interview, he said:

There are a number of people attending on the Iranian side at the negotiations who are said to be journalists reporting on the negotiations. But they are not journalists and their main job is to make sure that all the news fed back to Iran goes through their channels. My conscience would not allow me to carry out my profession in this manner any more.

Anyone in Iran who criticizes the regime in any way may be subject to imprisonment, torture or death. This was particularly evident following the 2009 presidential election, when there was blood in streets as peaceful student protesters were slaughtered by regime security forces.

Journalism in Iran is a particularly dangerous profession, since angering some regime politician can lead to imprisonment. One of the factors in Motaghi’s decision to defect was the arrest of his friend Jason Rezaian, the Iranian-American reporter for the Washington Post, who was brutally arrested on July 22 of last year, along with his wife. He is still in prison, and there have been no charges.

Motaghi says there is no point to being an Iranian journalist, since all you do is parrot with the regime tells you to say. He is also critical of Secretary of State John Kerry and the U.S. nuclear negotiating team: “The US negotiating team are mainly there to speak on Iran’s behalf with other members of the 5+1 countries and convince them of a deal.” Telegraph (London)

Arab League meeting ends with promise for joint Arab military force

Most annual Arab League summit meetings have as their top agenda item the problem of Israel and the Palestinian cause. But this year, the 26th Arab League summit was held in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, and the war with the Houthis in Yemen was pretty much the only major agenda item. Other important agenda items, including the Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh), the unrest in Iraq, Libya, Syria and the Palestinian cause, were discussed only briefly.

The major decisions to come out of the Arab League meeting were:

  • A general endorsement of the Saudi Arabia-led military action against the Houthis in Yemen.
  • A non-binding acceptance of the proposal by Egypt’s president Abdel al-Fattah al-Sisi for all Arab countries to form a joint Arab military force to “fight terrorism.” Al-Sisi has been pushing this idea for several weeks, ever since the massacre of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya last month by terrorists who had pledged loyalty to ISIS.

The final draft resolution called on Arab countries to support Palestine’s budget, and to pressure Israel to respect signed agreements and international resolutions.

The anger directed at Iran is palpable. The Houthi insurrection has done something that the Syria war, ISIS, and terrorism in Libya did not do: it unified the Arab nations, at least for the time being. Yemen is not seen as a local problem, but as Iran’s grip on another nation, after Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, while at the same time making use of a “desperate” President Barack Obama.

This Saudi editorial seems to capture what a lot of Arabs are feeling today:

If anything, the so-called Arab Spring had provided Iran with an unprecedented opportunity to boost its strategic presence in the Arab world. Indeed, Tehran has exploited every crisis in the Arab world to its advantage and to gain a foothold in the region. I will state the obvious and argue that Iran is a revisionist state.

Many Saudis as well as other Arabs believe that Iran’s bullying knows no bounds. Hence, many Arabs are looking up to Saudi Arabia to effectively confront Iran’s expansionist designs in the region. While Riyadh had been working along with other like-minded states in a peaceful way to prevent unnecessary escalation, the Iranian leaders erroneously thought that they could destabilize Yemen, change the balance of power in the Gulf region, and get away with it. In such a situation, it was necessary to formulate a new strategy conveying a strong message to Iran and its ilk that Saudi Arabia could always resort to using military means if and when necessary to prevent an imbalance in the regional balance of power.

The same strategy could be seen currently at work in Yemen. The failure of diplomacy to encourage the Iranian-backed Houthis to negotiate with good faith compelled Riyadh to adopt this approach.

In a short period of time, Riyadh put forward a formidable coalition with one objective: To reverse the gains of the Houthis and to hit them hard so that they understand that their actions will not be tolerated and that they have to negotiate a political settlement.

The running argument within and without Saudi Arabia is that short of taking strong and decisive action against Iran’s proxy, Iran will not change course.

To have a better understanding of this strategy, one has to examine the wider context. Observers in the region agree that United States President Barack Obama is desperate to leave his legacy in the Middle East. Time and again, Obama made it perfectly clear that a deal with Iran topped his priority list. The problem, and herein the crux of the matter, is that such a deal is most likely to give Iran an elated status. It is as if you get the genie out of the bottle. A deal with Iran is likely to strengthen a revisionist Iran, a scenario that will be too risky. Furthermore, the prevailing perception in this part of the world is that the American appeasement of Iran will only hurt the interests of the Arab world in the long run.

This is only a few steps away from a call for war with Iran. Al Ahram (Cairo) and Arab News and AP

Report: Iran nuclear negotiations may be deadlocked

The self-imposed deadline for completion of nuclear negotiations is Tuesday, and it is believed by many that the Obama administration is desperate for a deal, possibly so that Obama and Kerry can share a Nobel Peace Prize.

A report late Sunday indicates that Iran is backing away from a previous agreement to ship their stockpile of atomic fuel to another country, presumably to Russia. This would make the stockpile inaccessible for making a nuclear weapon.

Another major area of disagreement is the removal of sanctions. Iran’s Supreme Leader has vetoed any nuclear agreement that does not give Iran immediate relief from Western sanctions, as we reported two weeks ago. There is a disagreement among politicians in Washington whether Obama has the power to reduce or remove sanctions unilaterally, without a vote from Congress.

It’s typical in a hard negotiating situation for compromises to be reached at the last moment. Daily Star (Lebanon) and Bloomberg

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Iran, Amir Hossein Motaghi, Hassan Rouhani, John Kerry, Jason Rezaian, Arab League, Egypt, Yemen, Houthis, Saudi Arabia, Abdel al-Fattah al-Sisi, Libya
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